Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

In the UK, Online Petitions Are Gaining Steam

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, August 16 2011

A new online petition initiative in the United Kingdom is so popular that its website crashed on its first day in operation — so popular, in fact, that it has some people worried that too much democracy might be a bad thing.

Launched earlier this month, the UK's online e-petitions initiative — apparently a rehash of an earlier petitoning initiative from a previous government — allows any British citizen to petition the government for an item to be debated in the House of Commons. If a petition passes muster by government standards and collects over 100,000 signatures within a year, then it becomes due for debate in Parliament during time set aside for "backbencher debates" — discourse between lawmakers who don't have a government portfolio or a prominent spot in the opposition, set up through a new committee in the Commons.

But debate time is scarce for people outside of the government, and some commentators argue that the petition threshold is too low. Here's the BBC's Ross Hawkins:

Earlier this year the Sun won 100,000 supporters for its own petition to freeze fuel tax.

In 2007 almost 1.8 million registered their objection to road-pricing on the now defunct Downing Street petitions site. A demand to make the TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister got almost half way to that target.

One of the campaigners for a death penalty debate - Paul Staines, who blogs as Guido Fawkes - is an unlikely advocate for a higher bar.

He said: "I'm very confident that I'll get 100,000 signatures in a matter of weeks if not months and I think that they should perhaps make it a little bit tougher if they are going to take this seriously."

Being a fan of Clarkson's show, Top Gear, I've got to admit the idea of having him drive a supercar-du-jour to 10 Downing Street every day has a certain appeal — but as the leader of the House of Commons says the 100,000-signature mark for petitions can be raised or lowered if it seems to be too high or low, and the petitions merely create a spark for a debate rather than compel the government to act, it won't be a matter of serious concern.

The most popular petition on the site now asks Parliament to consider revoking social benefits for people convicted of participating in the recent riots that shook England. It has already accrued over 200,000 signatures, and the page has been updated to reflect a response from the government.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

First POST: Creeping

Senator Al Franken's tough questions for Uber's CEO; how the NSA could make its phone metadata program permanent; global privacy groups launch a personal spyware catcher called Detekt; and much, much more. GO

Recreation.gov and other Govt Projects Move Toward Embracing New Digital Approach

A draft request for proposals for the revamping of Recreation.gov will include a requirement that reservation availability data be publicly accessible and that all proposals detail how they will enable third-party sales, as two members of the United States Digital Services have joined the government team overseeing the RFP, meeting some key demands of civic technologists and consumer oriented technology companies. GO

wednesday >

First POST: Ubermenschens

Surge-pricing in effect for Uber privacy violations; why "privacy" policies should be called "data usage" policies; pols silent on Uber mess; and much, much more. GO

tuesday >

First POST: Uber Falles

Uber exposed for plan to dig up dirt on journalist critics; sneaking a SOPA provision into the USA Freedom Act; high-speed free WiFi coming to NYC; and much, much more. GO

monday >

First POST: Differences

How to use Twitter to circumvent campaign coordination rules; the net neutrality debate keeps getting hotter; charting the gender balance at dataviz conference using dataviz; and much, much more. GO

More